Farming was an integral part in the treatment of patients at Saint Elizabeths. It also carried out the hospital's goal of producing as much of its own food as possible. During his time as the supervisor, Charles Nichols was very interested in establishing a model farm for the hospital, and took an active role in managing it. This was especially seen in his personal involvement of the care and purchase of animals for the farm. During the early years of the hospital's farm, Saint Elizabeths had produce from its livestock and garden, including hay, oats, grapevines, and an orchard for apples and peaches.
As Godding’s tenure as Saint Elizabeths superintendent continued, agricultural activities expanded. During the 1880s, the Dry Barn, a large, vertical-sided clapboard structure, was constructed on the East Campus to house dairy cows and hay. It was the second barn to be built on the grounds. The Dry Barn was one of many significant changes to both the treatment of patients and the landscape of the hospital. Under Godding’s administration formal water features, pavilions, benches, and bridges were added to the grounds of Saint Elizabeths.
Farming continued to be significant to the hospital's operations into the 1930s. By the time Dr. Overholser took over the role of superintendent in 1937, Saint Elizabeths' farm was one of the last farming operations of its size in the DC area. Under Overholster, the farm included 14 acres of vineyards and fruit trees and 150 acres of gardens, crops, and other livestock functions.
The hospital felt pressured from the growing neighborhoods surrounding it and the need to construct more buildings for the growing population on campus. As the hospital progressed into the following decades, farming operations at Saint Elizabeths began to dwindle. By 1955, it was mainly used for patient therapy, rather than the production of food for the hospital's community. Ten years later, in June of 1965, farming had all but ceased on campus grounds.
For many years the Dry Barn sat vacant, awaiting a new use. Tragically, in December 2022, the barn, an integral feature of the Saint Elizabeths campus landscape, burned down in a fire. As one of the last extant barns in the District, it was incredibly significant to the District's agricultural past. Thus, the barn's destruction is a major loss for the city and its built environment.